Smoked Tri-Tip Roast

If you're from certain parts of the country, your mouth starts to water at the mention of grilled, smoked or roasted tri-tip. For others, tri-tip is an unknown cut of meat, and lots of questions arise about what exactly it is and how to best prepare it. As with most meat, smoking it lends a deep, flavorful element that is unable to be achieved any other way. If you've just discovered tri-tip, your questions may include, "What exactly is tri-tip? Why is it a good cut of beef? What is the best way to cook it? What can you serve with it? How and when should you season it? How long should you cook it?"

To start, tri-tip is a cut of beef that comes from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut. Its name results from its triangular shape, and each tri-tip weighs in the range of 1 1/2 - 3 pounds. While many people are familiar with a beef brisket, tri-tip roast has a lot going for it in its price point, ease of preparation, relatively short cooking time and overall taste. Originating in California, news and use of this unique cut have traveled across the U.S. in recent years.

Twenty years ago, nobody had even heard of tri-tip. We had quite a time explaining to butchers at the local markets what we wanted. My family loves this juicy, delectable cut, but I'll admit we usually eat more than one. Even though it's excellent seared, roasted and grilled, it may be at its very best served up straight from your smoker. I’ve already talked about tri-tip marinade, but today let’s focus on the roast itself. I'd love to share with you some of the best tips I know for serving up some killer tri-tip roast.

What you need to follow this tutorial:

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lb. tri-tip roast
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
  • high-quality dry rub (recipe below)

Dry Rub Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin

Other Items:

Step by Step Instructions:

Step 1: Purchase tri-tip.

This may seem like a simple step, but it may be easier said than done. If you're unable to locate tri-tip, you may want to ask your butcher to cut one (or two!) for you. If your butcher is unfamiliar with the term tri-tip, the cut can also be known as a bottom sirloin roast or a triangle roast. Fat is pretty evenly marbled through the meat, but it doesn't have a really high fat content, which enhances the flavor and leaves it juicy when cooked correctly. The tri-tip can be purchased with or without a fat cap, an additional 1/2 inch layer of fat on one side of the meat, but overall it's known as a fairly lean cut of beef.

Step 2: Plan to get started on preparations 10-36 hours before you want to serve smoked tri-tip.

Admittedly, tri-tip isn't the most tender cut of beef, but when treated right, it shouldn't fail to please. A day or more before you plan to serve it, start preparing the tri-tip for its delectable debut. Even though it's a roast, carving it up into individual steaks after smoking it makes it seem extra special.

Pro tip: I highly recommend seasoning and marinating the tri-tip for at least 24 hours.

Step 3: Make spice rub.

It may seem that there are too many items in this rub (nine, to be exact), but you probably have most of them in your pantry already. Together, they infuse lots of flavor to the meat. Mix all spices together in small bowl and set aside. You want this ready as soon as you've got your meat prepared. I know it seems like a lot of spice rub, but try to use it all when it's time. You can also check out another recipe for a spice rub recipe, Texas style!

Step 4: Remove fat cap.

Although leaving the fat cap on for searing, roasting or grilling may be a good idea, I don't recommend leaving it on for smoking. Since our goal is to cook this to medium rare, the fat cap doesn't have time to sufficiently render into the meat and as a result is entirely unnecessary.

Pro tip: Just take a really sharp knife and patiently work to get this layer of fat off. At least it's only on one side!

Step 5: Season the meat, and let it get happy for 6-36 hours.

Here's where the fun begins. I find placing the raw roast in an aluminum pan when I'm working on it to be helpful in containing the mess while I work on this step. First, work the 2 teaspoons of kosher salt vigorously into the meat. Then, apply the spice rub in the same way. Honestly, it may seem like too much but it seems to result in the most perfectly cooked tri-tip we've ever enjoyed. Then rub the olive oil on as well. After that, place the seasoned tri-tip in the fridge and let it get happy for 6-36 hours. Trust me, the longer it's in there, the better it will be.

Pro tip: Think about easy clean-up here. Instead of putting the oil directly on the tri-tip after seasoning it, place the oil into a gallon zip-top bag. Then put the tri-tip in and rub it until it is completely coated. Before sealing up the bag, press as much air out as possible.

Step 6: Smoke the tri-tip.

You'll want to get your smoker to 220 degrees using indirect heat and put in your smoker wood. Red oak is traditionally used for tri-tip, but I've had success with hickory as well. You can learn more information on the differences between smoke flavors here! It's also a good idea to set out your meat on the counter in order to get it closer to room temperature before it hits the smoker. If you have a water pan, you should probably use it. Also, a Bradley rack or something similar can help you get the meat on and off the smoker more easily. If not, just put the meat directly on the grate and cook it using indirect heat

Our goal is to reach medium rare here, which is typically 130 degrees. Our overall smoking time should be somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours. That time can vary a little depending on the thickness of the roast, but definitely check before two hours.

Pro tip: How to check for doneness of meat? If you don't have a meat thermometer, try the flesh test. It's not quite as reliable as a thermometer, but it will do in a pinch. The method is that different parts of your face actually match the feel of the center of the meat at certain levels of doneness.

  • A meat cooked rare will resemble the feeling of your cheek when you touch it with your index finder.
  • A meat cooked medium rare will resemble the feeling of your chin when you touch it.
  • A meat cooked well done will resemble the feeling of your forehead.

Step 7: Let it rest.

Once you've taken the tri-tip off of the grill, let it rest for 10-30 minutes. You don't want all of the juicy goodness dripping out when you cut into it! It's helpful to tent it with foil to help keep the heat in while the juices redistribute.

Step 8: Serve it up.

Slicing up tri-tip can be a little tricky because the grain goes two different ways. You basically have to slice it in two (watch where the grain changes) and carve up each side against the grain. One quarter to one half inch slices are just about perfect for our preferences.

Great sides would be a salad (you could even place the steak on top), baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic roasted broccoli, cauliflower macaroni and cheese, smoked collard greens and/or classic crusty bread. A nice apple, pumpkin, blueberry or pecan pie would finish things off well, too.

If you want some other option as to how to cook the delicious tri-tip, make sure to check out this easy video tutorial How to Grill a Tri-Tip Roast in Few Easy Steps:

Admittedly, tri-tip roast is one of the unsung heroes of the world of beef. A perfectly cooked strip (or two or five!) of tri-tip steak even rivals a filet mignon, in my opinion. Why don't you give it a try and see if you agree? I hope this tutorial has been helpful in sharing some do's and don'ts of one of my favorite, lesser-known cuts of beef. I'm all about sharing the love for amazingly delicious food, especially the kind that is smoked or grilled. And speaking of sharing, if you enjoyed this tutorial, found it helpful or have a commend to add, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share this article with family and friends so that they can try smoking some amazing tri-tip, too!

Frequently Asked Questions​

What is Tri-Tip Steak?

Should You Trim the Fat Cap on a Tri-Tip Steak?

Does Tri-Tip Steak Have Silverskin?

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Tri-Tip?

Do You Cut a Tri-Tip With the Grain or Against the Grain?

Each Share Saves a Steak From Being Cooked Well Done